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Q&A: India's Climate Chief on Making India Greener

When climate change negotiations ended on Saturday in Tianjin, China, it was on yet another bleak note. The gathering was the final meeting before the U.N. Climate Change Conference gets underway in Cancun in November, and the first time that such a high-level meeting has been convened in China. The U.S. and China continued to lock horns on an emissions target, with the U.S. deputy special envoy for climate change hinting that the U.S. might go outside the ambit of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to forge a new deal with other key economies. India's environment minister and chief climate change negotiator Jairam Ramesh spoke to TIME about India's stand in such an eventuality, and the challenges he faces to chart out a green path for India.

TIME: If the U.S. tries to seal a climate deal outside the UNFCCC, what will be India's stand?

Jairam Ramesh: There is a lot of frustration with the UNFCCC; I can understand. But it is the only game in town. It is the only multilateral agreement. It is also a legally binding agreement of sorts. We will have to resist attempts to balkanize the UNFCCC, but there are other areas where we can certainly have an [outside] agreement, such as on forestry, which is right for an international agreement.

India recently announced a new climate plan that identifies renewable energy as a key element. How plausible is a low-carbon economy for India, given the nation's dependence on coal-based energy and the high costs involved in switching over?

We have made a commitment that we will reduce our emissions intensity to GDP by 20-25% by 2020 on 2005 reference levels. I am 100% sure that we will improve on this target. But we can't take on absolute emission cuts like the Europeans - firstly because we didn't cause the problem of global warming, and secondly because we have a huge developmental backlog. For example, we have 300-400 million people to whom we have to extend electricity.

India is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases at the moment. Does it worry you that India might overtake the U.S. and China to become the world's biggest carbon emitter?

There is no danger of India overtaking China on emissions. China is number one in the world, with 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. is at 20-21%. India is only at about 5%. We are not in that league.

Is India looking toward developing better regional cooperation in combating climate change?

I look upon cooperation in environment as a strategic tool for building regional ties with our neighbors. We are looking at regional programs in glaciology with China, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan. India has given $1 million to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Coastal Zone Management Center in the Maldives, and $1 million to the SAARC Forestry Center in Thimpu. We also have [signed] the SAARC convention on environment in April this year, and we have a joint Sundarbans Eco-System Forum between India and Bangladesh.

How do you balance out major development, like India is undertaking, with protecting the environment?

Economic growth is our overriding priority; there is no doubt that we have to grow at 8 to 9% a year. But as former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had asserted many years back, economic growth but not at the cost of environment, not at the cost of nature, not at the cost of our forests, mountains, rivers and land. So we have to find that balance between environment and development. So far we have focused on the fiscal aspect of economic growth. Now we have to think about the environmental aspects of our growth.

If that's the case, then how is it that India is still reeling under its e-waste problem? According to a new report from the United Nations, there will be a 500% growth over the next 10 years in computer waste in India alone.

We have promulgated some new e-waste rules. Our e-waste regulations are very tight at present and are comparable to the best of the world. I agree that r infrastructure for dealing with e-waste or hazardous waste in general is inadequate. We have signed a $90 million project with the World Bank not only for e-waste, but chemical waste in general. We have over 140 legacy sites that need to be decontaminated and remedied. We will be beginning with 10 sites in the beginning but we need to expand this. For e-waste specifically we have set up a couple of new integrated facilities. But I do I agree that these are issues that have not engaged our attention in the past.

There has also been a long-standing debate about India's river interlinking project. [The project planned to link around 14 Himalayan rivers in North India and 16 peninsular rivers in South India in order to ensure an equal distribution of water in drought and flood-prone areas.] When you assumed office in 2009, you nixed the project, calling it an ecological disaster.

I have very serious concerns about large-scale river linking projects that tamper with nature. They have immense ecological consequences and human costs. As I have become older I have tended to become more suspicious of techno-fixes. These are basically human and social issues. The whole river linking thing was an engineering fantasy which did not take into account the human and social factors.

From halting work at POSCO's steel plant to canceling Vedanta's clearance for bauxite mining in Niyamgiri Hills, over the last few months your ministry has been reigning in errant companies.

We cannot have blind economic growth. We must have economic growth that is sensitive to the concerns of people. There are lots of issues on land acquisition, environment. Environment today in India is becoming a serious public health issue and is not anymore a middle class elitist pastime. So we have to listen to the people. There has been no bigger champion of the Indian private sector than me. Long before economic reforms and liberalization became fashionable in India, from the early 80s, I have been advocating that we must privatize, bring in the private sector, redefine the role of the government and so on and so forth. Many of these people against whom I am supposed to be taking tough actions are my friends. But there is no such thing as friendship over here. I have a job to do, I have to enforce the law. So, no matter however close someone is to me if he is breaking the law he is breaking the law and action has to be taken against him.

Some critics have said that securing the rights of India's indigenous groups has been lopsided and slow.

An expert committee is looking at the whole issue of implementation. I expect the report in December. With regards to individual forest rights, around 900,000 cases have been implemented till date. However, community forest rights implementation has been very small. Not recognizing community rights all over the country is one of the weaknesses of the act. That is something we need to address.

Is charting a green path for India challenging, or frustrating?

I wouldn't call it frustrating. Challenging, yes, even thankless - but not frustrating. I make one decision and the environmentalists are very happy, but the growth guys are unhappy; then I take another decision the growth guys are very happy, the environmentalists are very unhappy. I cannot please everybody.

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UK's Cameron announces military austerity plan

LONDON – Britain will lose thousands of troops, build new aircraft carriers — without new fighter jets — and delay a multibillion pound (dollar) upgrade to its nuclear deterrent under sweeping defense cuts being announced Tuesday following the first major military review in more than a decade.

Ahead of a speech to Parliament, Prime Minister David Cameron told troops in London that Britain will remain a major global power, despite fears among allies that the austerity plans could diminish the country's military might.

Cameron is scheduled to outline the details of cuts likely to total as much as 3 billion pounds ($4.8 billion) from the defense ministry's annual budget of about 37 billion pounds ($59 billion).

In the most eye-catching move, Britain is expected to press ahead with a 5 billion pound (US$8 billion) program to build two flagship new aircraft carriers — but won't equip them with British fighter jets for about a decade.

It means the vast vessels will either sail without aircraft, or carry French and U.S. jets — a decision the main opposition Labour Party described as out of the ordinary.

"We will be an absolutely front rank military power," Cameron promised, speaking at the Permanent Joint Headquarters, in London. "We will make sure that Britain is well defended and we have a set of armed forces that actually are fit for the modern world."

Military cutbacks come a day before Treasury chief George Osborne's long-anticipated announcement of a government-wide program to drastically cut department budgets and welfare bills.

The largest cuts to public spending since World War II are aimed at virtually eliminating Britain's deficit, which stands at over 10 percent of gross domestic product.

While Cameron pledges to safeguard funding for British forces in Afghanistan, the U.S. has already raised worries that cuts could leave its ally unable to take on a major role in military missions in the future.

"This is not a time where you can slacken in the need to keep strong and to invest in your military," said Jim Townsend, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO.

In a phone call with President Barack Obama late on Monday, Cameron promised that Britain would continue to be "a robust ally of the United States," despite the budget constraints.

Obama told his British counterpart he hoped the changes would allow the U.K. to "retain the full spectrum of military capabilities that permits our forces to partner effectively together around the world."

Ian Kearns, an analyst at London's Royal United Services Institute, a military think tank, said Britain may find itself unable to fight alongside U.S. forces in the future if it can't invest in the same sophisticated technology. "If one ally uses better technology than its allies, interoperability becomes quite different," Kearns said.

Cameron was expected to confirm that more than 7,000 army troops, and personnel from the air force and navy will be cut from Britain's ranks of about 175,000. He is likely to confirm the aging aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and a fleet of Harrier jets will be immediately taken out of service.

An order for 138 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets, which are mainly being built by Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas, is also likely to be slashed.

Relics of the Cold War — including tanks and heavy artillery — will be sacrificed as Britain looks to focus on threats from al-Qaida-related terrorism and bolster its cyber defenses. Britain is likely to offer increased funding to its special forces, and will announce a 500 million pound ($795 million) package for efforts against cyber terrorism.

Defense Secretary Liam Fox said the U.K. needed a military which was "flexible enough to adapt to the new threats, rather than locked into the post-Cold War projects that we had in the past."

Cameron has vowed to replace Britain's fleet of four Trident nuclear-missile-carrying submarines, but is expected to confirm that the 20 billion pound ($30 billion) program will be delayed. It would mean the submarines would only come into service from 2027, and that the costs would be paid after Britain's debts are cleared.

Menzies Campbell, a former leader of the Liberal Democrats — the junior partner in Cameron's Conservative-led coalition — said the delay should lead to a wider nuclear rethink.

"It will allow the opportunity to keep nuclear policy under review, to explore the possibilities of cooperation with the French, and even to consider other alternatives to like for like replacement of Trident," he said.

Decisions on the cuts were taken by Britain's national security council, a committee of ministers, military commanders and intelligence chiefs set up by Cameron after he took office in May.

Cameron's office said the country's next defense review will take place in 2015, after the country's next national election.


Associated Press Writers Anne Gearan in Washington, and Ben Timmins in London contributed to this report

Mine Workers and CPAs Endorse Delegate Sally Susman for Re-Election to West Virginia House of Delegates

BECKLEY, W.Va., Oct. 18 – BECKLEY, W.Va., Oct. 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Delegate Sally Susman has received endorsements in her re-election bid from the United Mine Workers of America and the West Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants.

"If anyone knows anything about business, it is the CPAs," she said. "Their endorsement demonstrates appreciation for my efforts to help business and industry grow in West Virginia."

Susman, D-Raleigh, also welcomed the endorsement of such an important labor organization as the UMWA.

"This is a response to my efforts to support mining that is conducted in a safe and responsible manner," she said. "There should be no doubt that I am pro-coal."

SOURCESally Susman